Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Soak in a True Natural Hot Spring in the Canadian Rockies



True, natural hot springs are hard to come by.  However, they do exist, if only you know where to look or who to ask.  That's how I have been able to soak in a few quite natural hot springs in Canada.

For years I have been visiting the hot springs of Canada’s Rocky Mountains: the Banff Upper and Lower hot springs, the Jasper Miette hot springs in Alberta, and the Radium and Fairmont hot springs in British Columbia specifically.  I know exactly why they are so popular.  They are relaxing, toasty warm, therapeutic, and they have the best view of any pool I’ve ever been to.  

hot springs, radium, british columbia, rocky mountains
Radium Hot Springs in British Columbia, Canada

However, these hot springs are more like giant hot pools, and I also find them to be overly commercialized.  They are literally large, heated swimming pools with ladders, railings, benches, cement pads, lifeguards, and sometimes even diving boards.  The pools, due to their extreme popularity, are also usually crowded, and it can be hard to find a place to sit and relax, at least during the busy seasons.  (For those of you who don’t know about Canada’s only two seasons, we have summer and winter.  Mostly winter.  Spring and fall really just pop in to say hello.  Summer is always busy in the mountains, and in winter, you can find large crowds during the fall break in November and during the holidays over Christmas and New Years.)

Many people I know have had the pleasure of hiking through the Rocky Mountains until they found a real, natural hot spring.  They would brag about soaking in the heated waters, surrounded by towering pines, without company or a care in the world.  It sounded heavenly.  I wanted to do that. 

Ironically, however, the main thing that ruins a true, natural hot spring is when too many people know about it, and so a lot of people tend to keep their locations a secret.  I try to wrangle information about how to find such a hot spring from others, and at the most they’ll say something mysterious like, “It’s just outside of Nakusp, on a mountain side.”  Thanks buddy.  That truly helps.  But to be honest, they know I write a travel blog and they don’t want me posting the GPS coordinates of their secret get-away.  I get that.  But I promise, cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die, I won’t post the location of your precious hot spring.  I just want to sit in it.

British Columbia hot springs, Fairmont hot springs
My dream - to soak in a natural hot spring (here at Fairmont, B.C.)

Finally, a local in Radium, British Columbia, told me about a fairly popular hot spring in nearby Fairmont.  She didn’t think it would be an issue to write about it, since it was quite well-known and usually pretty busy.  This hot spring was just a short (really short, as it turned out) hike from the commercialized Fairmont Hot Springs Resort.  My husband and I decided to find it and swim in it.  Since we found out about it at the end of our family vacation last summer, we had to wait until this summer to go on our excursion. 

A month before we left for B.C., a giant mudslide hit Fairmont, nearly wiping out the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort and damaging the area around the natural hot spring.  What would happen to the hot spring?  Would we be able to find it?

British Columbia hot springs, Rocky Mountains
The source of the Fairmont hot spring

We left our car in the parking lot of the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort and hiked uphill.  From the parking lot itself, you can see an old building structure - the remains of the original early-1900s hot spring hut where pioneers of the area came to soak and relax.  Atop the hill, a giant crack in the ground revealed the source of the hot spring, with hot water bubbling out, releasing a *lovely* sulfuric fume and inviting all sorts of green algae to come co-exist with it.  I didn’t care, though - the water was steaming hot, and some nice person had dug a little pond and placed a bench above it, so you could dangle your feet in the water and enjoy a stunning panoramic view of the Rockies. 

Fairmont natural hot springs, Rocky Mountains
Dipping my foot in the Fairmont hot spring source - super caliente!

However, there was no swimming pond or waterfall, which is what we’d been told to look for by the locals.  We hiked downhill, past the resort, and into the RV area.  Evidence of the mudslide was there for all to see, with the creek and path to the natural springs roped off. 

What I’d like to say I did was shrug my shoulders sadly, turn around, and obey the rule of “don’t go past the roped-off area”.  I realize the area was closed for my own safety and probably for the purpose of reclaiming the damaged land.  However, I had waited so, so long to see a natural hot spring, and the marked off area was basically all fixed up at this point, and I am a stubborn little thing - so I crept under the rope and began to pick my way down the hill towards the springs.  The path was relatively clear, the area safe, and the springs oh-so-tempting.  I had to do it.

It was worth it, I must say.  When we rounded a corner, there was the waterfall with the springs glistening below.  The sunlight streamed down onto the water like a Hollywood movie.  The pools cascaded one into the other, like a series of infinity pools carved by nature, with a vibrant blue color that made me long to jump in.  It was a piece of paradise with a mountain vista.  We excitedly crossed the stream, shed our clothes (hey, we had bathing suits on underneath - its not THAT kind of hot pool!), and slid happily into the water.

Fairmont hot springs waterfall, British Columbia hot springs
We found it! The real, natural hot spring at Fairmont - so beautiful!

I was a bit surprised by the temperature of the water, which was lukewarm at best, but after I thought about it, it made sense.  We had visited the source of the spring way up top on the hill, and the water had run down that hill, open to the mountain air, for quite some time.  It had sailed through the air via the beautiful waterfall before pooling in the spring that I was sitting in.  Really, it was a miracle that it was still lukewarm.  And compared to other bodies of water in the mountains, which are typically created from glacial run-off, warm was a fantastic change from ice-cold.  

British Columbia hot springs, Rocky Mountains
Such a gorgeous place!

I cannot begin to describe just how amazing this hot spring was.  The ‘infinity’ pool style reminded me of Turkey’s Pamukkale, only with a much different view.  You could see across the valley, the expanse of the Panorama mountain range peeking through the trees.  The roar of the waterfall took away any type of human noise that might have drifted up from the town of Fairmont far below.  Because of the cautionary ropes, we were alone save for two other adventurous hikers.  (Not that I recommend the rule-breaking, but hey....) The water was extraordinarily clear, and the grotto where the pool was situated prevented any sort of wind or breeze from blowing in and giving you a chill.

British Columbia hot springs
Joey soaking in hot springs paradise!

We stayed for awhile, enjoying the view and the waters, but decided to leave as the sun was showing signs of setting.  I didn’t want to be hiking in the mountains at dusk, cold and wet, in an area that was supposed to be off-limits.  Besides, the sediment from the springs made the rocks in the pool really slimy, so there was nowhere to sit and lounge.  It was time to go.  However, I was content, calm, full of inner peace, and extremely happy that I was able to check this item off my bucket list in such an amazing fashion.



For an update on the Fairmont natural hot springs, click here.  They are not what they used to be!

33 comments:

  1. Would really love to know where this is! I just moved to Calgary, been to & adored the Rockies/Banff/Canmore etc.. The man made Hot Springs are just like pools, no fun!

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    1. Of course! This hot spring is in British Columbia near Fairmont - about a 4-5 hour drive from Calgary. Fairmont Hot Springs are very commercialized, just as much as the Banff ones, but if you walk towards the RV camping section of the resort, there is a side road that takes you down to the underside of the commercial hot springs. Keep walking down that trail, past the resort springs, and around a couple of bends. You'll hear the waterfall before you see it. It isn't super hot, but it is SO worth the visit! Good luck finding it!

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    2. Thanks for your article..... we look forward to the rain ending this end of May/beginning of June 2013... your article warmed our spirits...and brightened them too. All the best....happy soaking:)

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  2. I have been to this spot before and it's great! It does get busy down there or it did when we went but we found multiple hot pools along the path further down as well!!! Best time is in the evening when they empty the hot pools all the water comes down and is very warm!!!

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    1. Hey, good to know! We are headed there in a few weeks when we get back from Iceland. It wasn't busy at all when we went last summer, but like I said, it was unusual circumstances with the mudslide situation. This year may be totally different, so I appreciate the tips! :)

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  3. sadly, we just returned from Fairmont this past weekend, and we made the mini-hike down the dirt road to the waterfall. There was a significant amount of erosion, and the landscape looks very different. A local told us there had been three graduated pools at the base of the waterfall - now there is only one :( (I had forgotten my camera that day, would love to have posted pics)...

    Getting down the banks of the creek was perilous, but once we got over to the other side of the creek and walked up to the waterfall it was worth it - even if it was just one pool left!

    I strongly suggest Lussier River if you want a natural hot spring experience - all three of the graduated pools are intact there, and only about 30 mins farther South. Take the Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park turn off, which takes you on a long, winding loggin road. Half way to the Whiteswan Park are the Lussier River hot springs. There are washrooms there. It's a long, steep downhill (and serious uphill on the way back) walking path to the river and the springs, but well worth it - not recommended for seniors though, its quite a steep incline on the way back up!

    I have photos if you want them - email me at mariamaceo@hotmail.com.

    Cheers!

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    1. Thanks for the great, detailed update! Someone did mention to me on my YouTube channel that Fairmont had filled in some of the hot spring as they were fixing up the mud slide damage. To hear it confirmed makes me sad. It was truly a beautiful natural area.

      However, thanks also for the great tip about Lussier River! Next summer when we do our annual Invermere family trip, if I'm not dripping in newborn baby, perhaps my husband and I can check it out and I can supplement this post with some info and photos on that location! I'll start training for the hike now! LOL

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    2. i visit the lussier springs a few times per year. i'm 60 and have a 'bum' knee and can handle that pathway up and down, no problem. there is some scrambling over the rocks that form the pools to contend with, tho. i hope my minor disability will never keep me from going there. however, some young locals were heavily drinking - and smoking cigarettes - ugh - right in the pool and their dogs were running wild (and we know dogs don't used designated bathrooms!) so i was disappointed in that..this is a treasure of a place and i'd like to see it stay clean...

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  4. I was just there this past weekend, there is only a small shallow pool right now, though I am not certain what was directly under the waterfall (seemed even more shallow). I'll try to think of a way to share a photo with you.

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    1. It breaks my heart that this hot spring has been so badly damaged. However, I know there are more around the area - even more private ones! As I stated before in this article, no one will give me directions because they don't want me to share them on the blog and make the hot spring too 'trendy' (not that my blog is a big hitter or anything). If anyone feels like sharing the location of some currently nicer hot springs, feel free! :)

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  5. Yes, many more in the area. But quite a few are small (i.e. no soaking pools) or are lukewarm at best. Lussier is a good one for soaking pools, but often crowded. The best ones require more than a short hike to get to ; )

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  6. Is there still a waterfall at Fairmont??? I went to Lussier 2 years ago and it's great but I have my heart set on Fairmont.

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    1. It sounds like the waterfall is still intact,but the pools at the base seem to be badly damaged or at the very least, majorly altered from what you see in these photos.

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  7. I'm torn as what to do is it worth checking out?? The pictures look so amazing even if there's just one pool now....could someone please find a picture of what it looks like now

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  8. I think I found a picture of what it looks like now if someone could confirm if this is how it looks now please do

    http://www.tripadvisor.ca/ShowUserReviews-g182194-d3184742-r171534267-Fairmont_Hot_Springs_Resort-Fairmont_Hot_Springs_Kootenay_Rockies_British_Columb.html

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    1. I don't think that's it - the building in behind is much too close. The waterfall in this post is not located that close to any building... So hopefully that means it is still there. I am headed to Invermere again this summer - I will write an updated post about the hot spring, I promise!

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  9. Thank you so much!!

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  10. I have been vacationing at fairmont for decades now and know these springs well. The waterfall is actually run-off from the hotspring pool. It is rumored that the waterfall and soaking pools are naturally occuring but now (we climbed up to the waterfall to confirm this) is actually fed by a pipe coming from the pool just above it. They used to drain the pool every night (I think they still do) and when they do the waterfall is much larger and more impressive, but you also get lots of crud in the water from the pool. Fairmont has always discouraged people from swimming in the waterfall, they usually claim for environmental reasons, but I have often wondered how much of it is trying to keep up the money in the main pool especially seeing as they only actually roped the trail off after they (significantly) raised the prices to the pool. If you dont want to seem all bad and sketchy by climbing under the ropes, there is a trail off the mountainside golf course that leads up to the waterfall after a 10 min walk.

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    1. I had no idea that the waterfall was fed by the main pool... although the main pool is fed by the natural hot spring, so quid pro quo, it is still a natural hot pool... sort of. We never thought to climb to the top of the waterfall! Thanks for the intel! Have you been in the last year? Rumor has it the 'natural' pool has been bull-dozed over.

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    2. Any hot pool that adds chlorine ( like Fairmont ) is not natural and is indeed toxic. I can't be in them anymore without having the side effects of the toxic vapes. Chlorine is activated with heat.

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  11. I have lived in the area for a few years now. Lussier Hot Springs is really nothing special. There are at least two more I know of in the area, both have quite a hike to them. You can find both online, one is just outside of Skookumchuck, about 1 hour south of Fairmount. And the other just outside of Kimberly. If you are looking to experience the most lovely natural Hot Springs EVER, Liard Hot Springs in northern BC. On its own, well worth the trip. It is by far the most gorgeous hot springs I have ever been too. But be warned, it will make all other Hot Springs fail in comparison. Hopefully one day you will get to enjoy it

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    1. Awesome information! Now I really want to go to Liard Hot Springs!

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    2. i agree! liard is amazing. i was there in december once and it was -30F. there was a 6"ring of the greenest grass surrounding the pools and then - wham - hard-core winter!

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    3. Liard Hot Springs is absolutely amazing. This was my first hot springs visit and now nothing can ever compare! Great article btw, just googled natural hot springs and your blog came up. Love your posts!

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    4. Thanks, I'm flattered that you like my blog! So many people keep mentioning Liard - I'm going to have to take a road trip up there! It's quite the drive but sounds like it will be worth it! :)

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  12. COULD SOMEONE PLEASE POST PICTURES OF WHAT THE FAIRMOUNT WATERFALL LOOKS LIKE NOW SINCE THE MUD SLIDE.

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    1. I will be updating this post in July when my family and I head to Invermere for our annual family trip. Until then, if you find somewhere with updated photos, I'd love to see them too! :)

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  13. Hi there I am going in two weeks to find it is it in the RV Campground there!!

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    1. It is between the RV campground and the commercial springs. The path to get there starts at the hairpin curve on the dirt road down to the RV park. I sure hope there is something there still worth seeing! I'll be there in less than a week, so I will be updating this post and maybe you can check back to see if the hike is worth your while! :)

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  14. Thanks for the info!!!

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  15. Okay, for everyone wanting an update on the springs, here it is:
    http://downthewrabbithole.blogspot.ca/2014/07/update-fairmont-natural-hot-springs-2014.html
    Enjoy (or not)!

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  16. If you're ever on the west coast of Vancouver Island, in Tofino, hop on one of the whale watching tours that includes hot springs cove. The hot springs is about an hour by boat north of Tofino, with great wildlife viewing on the way. You pull into the dock and have to hike about 10-15 minutes along a boardwalk to get to the spring, but it is right on the edge of the ocean (https://www.google.ca/maps/place/49%C2%B020'59.5%22N+126%C2%B015'36.0%22W/@49.349854,-126.260002,254m/data=!3m2!1e3!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0x0) The springs flows down a little creek, over several small waterfalls, forming a number of pools, and then drains into the ocean. There is a small change room/outhouse, but other than that the site is not developed at all. Bring good footwear as you're clambering over rocks to get to the pools. I've been to All of the hot springs mentioned above including Lussier and Liard River, and every paid admission pool in the Canadian Rockies and the Kootneys, but this one is by far my favourite.

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  17. Its a hidden gem, just at the back of the pool.

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